An Aah! Megami-sama / Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon / Ranma ½ crossover story
by Jeffrey Vasquez
Disclaimer: "Ah! Megami-sama" (or "Oh! My Goddess!") was created by Fujishima Kosuke, and is licensed to Kodansha and AnimEigo. "Ranma 1/2" was created by Takahashi Rumiko, and is licensed to Shogakukan Inc., Kitty, Fuji TV, and Viz Communications Inc. "Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon" was created by Takeuchi Naoko, and is licensed to Koudansha, TV Asahi, Toei Douga, and DIC Entertainment, L.P. "Forgotten Realms" was created by TSR. Inc. and is owned by Wizards of the Coast. All original characters belong to me. Please drop me a line if you want to use them. (email@example.com) All characters and settings are used here without permission.
Forward: Thanks goes out to the incredible men and women that work at Wizards of the Coast. I've been gleaning information left and right from just about every little bit of source material I can find, old and new. I give credit where credit is due. These incredibly creative people came up with the source material; I'm just playing around with their worlds. Here's a short list of where I'm getting most of my background information:
Also, special thanks to Silk for correcting a major faux pas on my part:
Storm knew Spellfire when she saw it. She was intimately aware of the rare and special gift that Mystra graced her favored with. The black lightning, though that was something new. She stared hard at the boy and was taken aback by the look of extreme terror that settled over his face.
Here's what Silk had to say:
"This is actually incorrect. The chosen of Mystra have a gift known as Silverfire, not Spellfire. Spellfire is the ability to absorb and channel magic into a pure form of mystical energy, Elminster himself only has the tiniest amount of this ability (enough to light his trusty pipe for flash :) ) Silverfire however is an actual part of the essence of the weave and of Mystra herself that she has bestowed upon Khelbon,Elminster, and her daughters.
"TSR released the Hero's Lorebook which had the most information
about both types of power; however here is a link to most of the
information concerning Silverfire."
Thanks again Silk for catching my mistake! Future chapters will reflect this distinction, and I will amend the previous chapters in the revision.
No one really slept in the tower that night. None of the current inhabitants seemed to need sleep except for Valor and maybe Elminster, who had drunk himself into an incredible stupor. He wasn't exactly in the tower itself though, if the sounds of his snoring were any indication. The Simbul, the most deadly and volatile of the Seven Sisters, was currently giggling and braiding little pink bows into the man's beard. Wisely, no one made comment about this. A grumpy wizard of Elminster's caliber was not someone to be mocked.
Valor, Elminster's newest scribe, had been busy through most of the night, cleaning up the debris from the previous day's excitement with the aid of a group of elementals . The good-hearted drow said few words to any, save to ask them to lift their feet or slide a little to the left as she went about her tasks. She showed no signs of tiring any time soon, but then the damage to the tower made exhaustion a forgone inevitability.
The sisters had politely offered to help, and had even summoned a few of their own servants and elementals to aid Valor in her singleminded battle against the debris. The drow, however, had pointedly told them that they were guests and that they weren't to trouble themselves further. Thus, Storm and Sylune had cooked up a small breakfast while Valor had been distracted by a cluster of imps that had gotten free of their containment, and sat down with Brailen to chat quietly at the kitchen table. The two mysterious guests had yet to awaken, and in everyone's mind, this was a good thing. All things considered, and in light of the chaos, everything was going rather smoothly.
It was certain not to last. These things rarely did.
Which was why at Highsun, when all the crickets fell silent and the small breeze in the trees had died, Valor quietly excused herself to go to the market. Her timing, as usual, was impeccable. She had actually made it to the main road before the Tower literally exploded with activity. Yet another room disappeared in a conflagration of smoke and purple flame. Night abruptly fell in spite of the sun's position in the sky, and one could easily see the stars.
Luckily, she had the foresight to bring a lantern along with her. She didn't really need it, but it set the merchants at ease when they could see her face clearly.
If the tower survived intact, Valor was sure to have her work cut out for her when she returned; but considering the life that Elminster had rescued her from, she figured that cleaning was a small price to pay. The drow began humming a soft traveling song and contemplated what shopping needed to be done and where she could find the best prices. Another explosion from the tower helped her come her decision — there was a Magefair being hosted somewhere in Tethyr. By the time she found it and returned, Elminster should have things well in hand.
If not Well, Valor had learned the need of a backup plan early in life. Few survived in the drow city of Ched Nasad without them. She just hoped that she didn't have to use it.
The Waterdeep Road
Usagi hadn't been able to sleep a wink because of the light. She and Ulin had stayed up half the "night" talking about what they could expect throughout the trip. Monsters, bandits, maybe a mage duel or two if they were lucky — and if they weren't, they might stumble across an orc horde or an army bent on wiping a city from the face of the earth. Perhaps they might even sight a dragon. Oh, joy!
Had it been dark out, Usagi was positive that she would have stayed awake all night anyway, just from the stories that her friend told. The way that Ulin could speak about specters and watch-ghosts so casually gave Usagi the shivers.
On the bright side, the Genasi had told Usagi that she was going to start teaching her the rudiments of magic. Ulin had even gone so far as to test her potential. Apparently her latent talent for spellcasting was rather Well Ulin had said astounding, but Usagi felt that the woman was just trying to make her feel better. The small rock was supposed to have lit up, not exploded!
Still, anything to pass the time was better than nothing, even if it meant studying. Ugh!
That was the hardest thing about the trip — the mind-numbing boredom. They had been traveling for hours; she really had no idea how long. Ulin had said it was best to make use of the time that they had, while they had it. And so they started riding hours before the sun had even crested the horizon not that they needed it any more. The landscape was pretty, but monotonous, and Ulin didn't talk much. All she would do was look at the sky worriedly from time to time and pour over her spellbook, leaving Usagi to her own devices.
What she wouldn't have given for a CD player or a working television or some of Rei's manga! Anything to help her stay awake in the saddle. More than once she had found herself nodding off, and on one occasion Ulin had jabbed her wickedly in the ribs for falling completely asleep. Usagi had been leaning nearly horizontal, with her head stretched out over Mister Horse's rump. Had it not been for the magic saddle, Usagi would have fallen from her mount long ago. Probably cracked her head open too.
The displaced moon princess smacked her lips and rubbed the grainy gook from her eyes. She needed a toothbrush, too. Her breath positively reeked! Oh, and a bath. A nice hot bath with lots and lots of bubbles. Ugh! She had never in her life smelled so funky! It was embarrassing. Usagi sighed and looked skyward for the twentieth time, noting that the sun had almost reached its peak. Her stomach growled noisily.
Food. She needed food.
"Can we stop yet?" She tried not to whine. Whining was a sure way to have Ulin growl at you, and Usagi thought that was really scary. But the saddle was really starting to do her in. Her butt had long since gone numb and her legs were all prickly and her back ached! Ulin, of course, ignored her. The other woman's nose was buried deeply in her book, and from past experience with Ami, Usagi knew that there was little hope of drawing a woman like that out of her studies.
Still, it wouldn't hurt to test her theory.
"Oh, look! A dragon, intent on barbequing us." No reaction. Usagi sighed and reined her mount over to poke Ulin in the leg. She had covered about half the distance between them, when day turned suddenly into night. Ulin's head shot up from her book and stared at Usagi blankly. The girl raised her hands defensively and shook her head. "I had nothing to do with it!"
The Genasi sighed and looked worriedly at the sun overhead. Usagi followed her gaze and blinked in confusion. The moon was nowhere near the sun, which ruled out an eclipse. No, the sun was in the same position that it had been, still burning brightly, yet the sky around it was black as night. Usagi could see stars twinkling above her and a shiver ran down her spine. There was just something really religious about an event like this. Usagi wasn't into religion, not really. But this this was like whoa!
Ulin motioned them off to the side of the road as she shoved her spellbook back into a leather satchel hanging at her hip. Usagi started to follow her when a ground-shaking roar ripped across the sky. She looked down at her stomach quizzically and rubbed it affectionately.
"I know. I know. We'll feed you soon."
Ulin cursed and spun her mount around just as a great shadow passed over them. The sound of taut fabric humming through the wind raced overhead. Usagi looked up and caught sight of a gargantuan blood-red body shooting past their position.
Shingo had gone through a dinosaur period when he was five. The gnat had pestered Usagi night and day with various facts about his favorite dinosaurs for over six months. Half a year of listening to sizes, weights, and dietary habits had nearly driven Usagi insane, and any time she saw the Jurassic Park logo on anything, her blood boiled. She had hated her little brother's enthusiasm, even more so when he used it to insult her — she did not eat as much as a brontosaurus, thank you very much! She hated how her mother and father egged him on. Now however, she could appreciate her little brother's fascination.
It wasn't easy to try and catalogue the beast. It seemed to be the size of a small red mountain. Its wings were huge, but its body was colossal! She had never seen anything more majestic in her entire life. Power radiated off the creature, even from half a mile away. It was beautiful.
Sharp horns shaped a veritable crown that fanned outward from the creature's head, easily noticeable even from this distance, and Usagi could see that its body was severely wounded and smoldering in many places. Part of its back seemed to have a thick coating of ice covering it, and the left wing had a huge gaping hole. It was amazing that it could even hold enough wind to still fly at all. She watched as the dragon banked sharply and caught a rising thermal. It rose up into the sky and there was a flash of lightning that blasted forth from his right wing.
Usagi tracked the bolt and watched dumbfounded as it took another smaller dragon directly in the face. The white creature was stunned, and the red dragon roared. A fireball leapt from its left wing and impacted the white dragon in the side. There was an incredible explosion, and Usagi watched in horror as the white dragon's smoking corpse fell from the sky.
She dimly heard Ulin screaming at her from somewhere far away, and idly noted the sensation of movement, but she could not take her eyes from the battle. Three more dragons, two red and one black, attacked in unison, pressing the larger dragon. It tried to retreat, and made a break for Usagi's position. Blood dripped from ugly wounds, and the winds of the great beast's overhead passing nearly tore her from her saddle.
Three more roaring figures rocketed just above the treetops, unleashing flame and acid on their prey. Fear unlike any other she had ever experienced gripped Usagi's heart and pulled her back to reality.
Ulin was nearly flat against her horse's neck and spurring the beast for greater speed. Usagi's reins were clutched tightly in her hand as she led Mister Horse at breakneck speed into another thicket of trees. The moon princess glanced over her shoulder in time to see another dragon falling from the sky. It was one of the smaller reds, and its face was a broken, smoldering ruin. She could see a trail of blood flowing from an incredible hole in its neck, and more wounds besides. The idea that it was on a collision course directly for them hardly registered.
All that she could think of were her earlier joke about a dragon barbecuing them. "I didn't mean it," she whispered to the wind.
To her right, through the safety of the trees, she saw the black dragon impact in a large field. A plume of dust and sod exploded in a fountain of violence. The dragon tried to get back into the air, but the colossal red fell upon it. Claws raked, jaws crushed, and teeth tore. Usagi watched in wide-eyed fascination as blood flowed from the primal dance. Fountains of blood shot skyward, like black rain in the light of dragonfire. The murderous conflict was over in seconds, and then the red was back in the air, rolling to avoid a number of magical attacks from the last red. She had never seen such grace in all her life.
Ulin looked back and screamed something. Usagi couldn't understand what, but a second later she was bracing herself as the ground opened up beneath them. There was a loud "whoosh!" and Usagi felt her fall arrested as the vacuum of the falling dragon's body passed overhead. The horses screamed and tried to roll with their fall.
Mister Horse miraculously kept his legs, but Usagi's world was a mad blur as her body was jerked every which way. Clouds of dust and dry earth made it almost impossible to breathe; so much so that Usagi found herself coughing more than breathing. Lightheaded and shivering, the moon princess tried to urge Mister Horse out of the dust and into cleaner air.
It took several minutes for the air to clear. When Usagi could finally see again, she noted that they were in some sort of tunnel about thirty feet beneath the surface. Mounds of earth and roots, as well as a half-buried tree, lay beneath the gaping hole in the sky. A roar split the darkness, followed by another, causing Usagi to shiver.
She wanted to go home. She wanted to be back in her bed, with all of this being just some weird, ice cream-induced nightmare. She wanted to see Mamo-chan again. She wanted to give that Ulin a piece of her mind! What was the crazy woman thinking? What was the big idea? Taking her out into dragon country like that! Of all the irresponsible
Usagi's eyes angrily drifted over the destruction, looking for Ulin and her horse. Stone and loose soil were piled at the far end of the tunnel opposite her. The sorceress was nowhere to be seen.
"Ha-ha. Cute, Ulin." Usagi's eyes drifted everywhere, hoping to catch sight of the woman before she could spring the obvious prank. "You think you can feed me a bunch of spooky stories, get us chased by dragons, and then pull some lame disappearing act?" Usagi's voice echoed in the tunnels ominously causing her to tremble. She started to walk towards the pile of earth, waiting for Ulin to pop up at any second.
"You think that you can just jump out and scream 'boo' and scare me! Well, it's not going to work! You hear? So, you might as well come out so that we can get out of this hole!" The only sound that greeted her as she moved closer to the mound was the tumbling of loose rock and soil as it fell onto the packed earth beneath her feet. Usagi looked up to see if Ulin had somehow not fallen into the hole. Had she been looking down, she would have seen the dirty, jade-colored hand that ultimately tripped her.
She squawked as she fell, painfully smashing her cheek against her forearm as she braced for herself for the impact. Her breasts throbbed from the fall, and she smashed the funny bone of her left elbow on a rock. Numbness was soon replaced by the sensation of hundreds of tiny needles dancing on her nerves as she pushed herself to her knees. She massaged her breasts grumpily and tried to get most of the dirt from her blouse. The garment was long gone, but she wasn't ready to burn it quite yet.
"I'm not laughing, Ulin! Come on! I'm not in the mood to play games!" Usagi grumbled and turned back to look at what she had tripped over. The second that her eyes fell on the half-exposed arm of her friend, she screamed and started digging.
It seemed to take forever to free the green-skinned sorceress, but when Usagi had finally pulled her from the debris, she sighed in relief. Ulin's chest rose and fell steadily. She had a nasty bruise on her shoulder and her leg was bent at an odd angle, which wasn't too good. Still, she was alive. Her poor horse hadn't made it, though. Usagi could see where its legs were partially sticking out of one side of the mound of dirt.
She did her best to make Ulin comfortable, while trying to remember the rudimentary first aid lessons that she had learned from Ami-chan. Ami-chan had tried to teach all the Senshi a few things, just in case one of them was hurt badly while fighting, but for the life of her, Usagi could only remember that silly rhyme.
"If the face is pale raise the tail. If the face is red, raise the head." She glanced at Ulin ponderously before raising her head to the heavens. "How's that supposed to help someone whose got green skin?!"
Usagi slumped to the ground and sighed. She did remember something about keeping your patient warm, which meant she would need blankets. The temperature was starting to drop, and the last thing she needed was for Ulin to catch a chill. Usagi scanned the area for Mister Horse and her saddlebags and set about making her friend as warm as possible. Once she was satisfied that Ulin wasn't going to freeze, Usagi set about trying to get to Ulin's saddlebags. She didn't want to freeze either.
The town of Highden
Bertrold looked at the dark sky bleakly and shuddered. There were few on the streets of Highden due to the sudden change in the celestial constants. Still, he supposed that the sun had still risen in the east this morning, so that was one less thing that the gnome had to worry about. He shook his head and wondered which of the tall races had decided to plunge the world into turmoil this time.
Well, it wasn't his problem; at least not until it came knocking on his door. He had other concerns at the moment, all of them centering on a dwarf and his new human friend. He had left the pair late into the night, or at least what should have been night according to his clock. Duncan had been firing question after ceaseless question at the lad, and Master Keiichi had been bumbling awkwardly through the answers. The Oghmite had been struggling to translate when the pair came to an impasse, but the last he had seen of the woman had been when Sam draped a couple of blankets over her sleeping body.
Bertrold hadn't been able to make head nor tail of the information or the diagrams that Master Keiichi was coming up with, but Duncan apparently had. The gleam and fire behind the dwarf's eyes had sent chills up and down Bertrold's spine. The gnome had no idea how the pair intended to harness the power of electricity or the power of the sun for that matter, but the boy had fanned Duncan's flagging flames last night.
To an extent he had eased some of Bertrold's fears as well — not completely mind you, just enough to stick around for a little longer. If things worked out the way that he hoped, the gnome was certain to be rolling in gold by the end of the year. If they didn't go as planned Well, another month wouldn't hurt him much more than he already was.
Bertrold continued to meander his way through the hodgepodge of mismatched houses that made up the "foreign quarter" of Lantanese society, making his way steadily to the Steelwater Workshop. Gnomish buildings were comfortable, and built to the right size, but living in Highden offered one an unmistakable perspective on the world. It wasn't as easy to lose yourself to the narrow mindset that so many of his colleagues kept finding themselves in these days. As a merchant, there was nothing worse than losing touch with the markets that fed your change-purse.
He passed Oghma's Road and barely spared the Abbey a second glance. It sat on its hillock, overlooking the inland meadows that stood as a boundary between Sundrah and Highden. He soon had made his way down past the square and up Smooty's Lane to the Steelwater Workshop. Lights were on inside the drawing room and kitchen, so he made his way around to the back and knocked on the kitchen door. Sam presented herself immediately and smiled warmly to Bertrold.
"Good." She looked at the sky and shook her head dubiously. "How are you, Master Bendlebranch?"
"Perfectly well, Madame Steelwater. And yourself?" he asked cordially as she took his hat and cane.
"A bit topsy-turvy, truth be told. But well enough. Thank you for asking."
Bertrold heard voices being raised in frustration in the direction of the drawing room. Sam sighed and shook her head.
"Still at it, eh?" Bertrold could see a fresh pot of tea being brewed. "How many pots have they gone through?" he asked with a grin.
"Seven no, eight. Duncan is running poor Master Keiichi ragged."
"Duncan is a tenacious old cuss." Bertrold laughed and shook his head. "How's the lad holding up?"
Sam smiled and shook her head.
"If anything, I would say that the young man is more excited about this than Duncan."
"Have they made much progress?"
Sam nodded proudly. "Master Keiichi finished the diagrams sometime around the fifth hour this morning. Right now they're arguing about fuel."
"Fuel?" Bertrold said cautiously. He was almost afraid to ask. "Have they done away with the steam engine already?"
Sam shrugged. "You'll have to ask them about the details, I'm afraid." The teakettle began to whistle, drawing the dwarf woman to the stove. "Have you eaten lunch yet, Bertrold?"
The red-bearded gnome grinned irreverently. "I had a late breakfast, but if you're cooking, Sam, you know I won't turn you down."
Sam smiled and set an extra place at the table for the latecomer. Voices began rising in the drawing room, causing Bertrold to look at Sam questioningly. She barely noticed the fervor of the argument, it seemed, and continued preparing the afternoon meal. Both turned at the sound of a door slamming open.
"It burns like the sun, I tell you!" Duncan's face was set in a stony mask of determination, and young Keiichi was nursing his temples and following the dwarf. The two stomped down the hallway and into the kitchen without pausing.
"Bertrold," Duncan growled on his way past the gnome and out the back door. He stomped as well as any dwarf, which meant that his heavy boots made all the porcelain in the house dance in their cupboards.
"Duncan," the gnome replied with a cheery smile.
Keiichi bowed politely, if hastily, to both Sam and Bertrold, and quickly shuffled out to the shop on Duncan's heels. Both Sam and the gnome went to the door and watched as Duncan led Keiichi not to the shop as the spectators had supposed, but to the root cellar instead. Neither appeared for a few minutes, but Bertrold was certain that Duncan was yelling.
The gnome pulled out his pipe and began chewing on the end of the stem to bide his time. When they appeared from the depths of the cellar, Keiichi was gesturing frantically and trying to make himself understood. " no is just burning! Is mix of fuel that make it work! Bad mix choke engine!"
Duncan whirled on Keiichi and jabbed a stout finger into the young man's stomach, pulling the human up short. The grin on the dwarf's face was anything but welcoming. "When I'm done cookin', lad, all that's left is a pure brew." He grabbed Keiichi's sleeve and drug the boy into the shop. Bertrold stood poised on the stoop, wondering if he should venture out to investigate. The flash and boom of an explosion settled the matter for him. He liked his beard the way that it was, thank you very much.
Keiichi and Duncan stumbled out of the shop looking beleaguered. The poor human's hair was standing away from his head and his face was black as pitch. His eyes had an unhealthy glaze to them. Duncan was laughing.
Laughing! Bertrold couldn't remember the last time that he had seen the dwarf laugh so freely. He looked to Sam. From the way that her face was beaming and the tiny tear that she was wiping from her eye, it had been a long time for her as well.
Bertrold sized up the human anew. He had written the lad off as a crackpot, what with that "suitor-of-a-goddess" drivel. But looking at the boy now, Bertrold was second-guessing himself. He had seen firsthand on many occasions that the line between genius and insanity was fairly thin. And having a genius under one's wing was always profitable business. Especially when they weren't connected to the Gondian Order. Bertrold smiled and decided that he would stick around to see what the boy proposed. Perhaps he could even cook up something of an acid test for the lad.
Yes, that would work nicely. Something small that would help support the project and pad the lad's purse a bit. Nothing gave a being confidence better than the shine of gold. And if the creation sold well, then Bertrold would know for certain whether young Master Keiichi was nothing more than fool's gold, or if he truly was the mother lode.
Somewhere in Cormanthor
Ranma-neko sprang through the tress, bounding from limb to limb with hardly a care in the world. She had seen a number of the black-skinned almost-men moving through the shadows below her, but she decided to avoid them for the most part.
There was one, though, that Ranma-neko had run across that seemed different than the rest. She had encountered the almost-man just after it had rained. The white-maned creature had begun acting foolish almost immediately, making strange noises that hurt Ranma-neko's ears. He had smelled of sickness too. Thus Ranma-neko had intelligently moved deeper into the forest, leaving the ill almost-man behind.
The place was alive with old things that tickled deep memories. Those things that care-givers, warm-laps, smelly-barkers, and almost-men always forgot. The forest also carried the scents of the twisted-ones, the burning-ones, and dead-ones. Ranma-neko didn't like these things at all. Especially considering the fact that they were living in her new territory.
She would have to drive them out sooner or later, but first she needed to ease her hunger. The great fire had set long ago, which meant that it was time to hunt. Ranma-neko sprang from her branch and began her silent search for dinner.
Day turned into night and night consumed the day. For the space of three revolutions of the sun, Shar shrouded the sky in perpetual night and Mystra's silver fires lit up the dark skies. The sages of men and elves whispered in their cloisters, speculating on the return of the gods to Toril. Prophets and Doomsayers rose among the cities of Faerun crying that the end of all things had come.
The ascetics of Candlekeep scoffed at this and told all those involved that they were smoking too much barley and hemp. The great seer Alaundo had plainly said that the end wouldn't come for another seven thousand no, it was eight thousand sorry, but he clearly stated that it was after the fall of The Angel's City, which was said to be consumed by the ocean after the manner of the great and abominable Gates of William .
The ascetics of Candlekeep fell into their customary bickering over the interpretation of prophesy and were thus largely ignored by those with any sense. There were more important things to consider: namely, finding a way to somehow survive the coming cataclysm.
The thought of yet another Time of Troubles inspired the likely feelings amongst the inhabitants of Toril. This, of course, led to a large amount of looting and pillaging on one hand, and a serious upswing in attention to prayers and offerings on the other.
Many intelligent people blamed wizards, which of course was a valid assumption considering the mindset of most wizarding folk. The search for power and unlocking the secrets of the universe often opened doors that were best left closed, after all.
Thus, when a few of the Order Arcanum were approached by your everyday run-of-the-mill lynch mobs, they used their considerable intellect to point their fingers to someone else. This went on for quite some time, until finally enough people had gathered to be considered an army. The fact that they were marching on Shadowdale surprised no one in the least. As mobs went, the saying held true: the more people that gather, the lower the collective intelligence tends to be.
Most of the wizards who had directed the crowd to Elminster decided that a vacation was in order, on the off chance that the Archmage got it into his head to do some scrying for the guilty parties. "Out of sight, out of mind", and all that. While not the most intelligent course of action, that was probably the smartest thing anyone had done in the last three days nights Eh, whatever.
You see there's nothing more frightening than a Master Mage when he's pissed.
Elminster was miffed.
Not only a little bit upset, but understandably perturbed.
He wanted to be drunk. Really, really drunk. But there was no more alcohol left in the tower. Valor had been gone to market for three days now, and El openly wondered if his drow friend was going to return. If she was smart, she wouldn't. In the off case that she did, she had damn well better bring the hooch if she knew what was good for her.
Brailen, Storm, and Sylune had left to visit Aglarond with the Simbul, cheerily waving to him on their way out the door amidst the sound of breaking china and shattered furniture. That had been a day ago, and they had taken the last three kegs of Brambleberry Whiskey with them too.
And here he had thought that Alrassa loved him. The Simbul had pulled his arse from the pits of Hell, after all. That had to count for something, right?
El barked a melancholy laugh. Sure, she loved him, but who was he kidding? Alrassa was the most intelligent woman he knew. She wouldn't poke her head into this hornet's nest, love or no love. She had the decency to ask him to come with them, but he had been extremely inebriated at the time. He thought he had said something along the lines of " save thine own pretty hide " and made a comment about perfect breasts before passing out. When he woke, he'd had lip-paint all over his face and a mushy love letter that said if he survived the next day, she would gladly marry him. Apparently she had gone to gather reinforcements, or some such nonsense.
El sighed and winced as yet another explosion shook the tower. The once-proud structure of his home was now a ramshackle ghost of what it had been two days ago. He had saved what little he could, and mourned the rest. Priceless treasures from throughout the planes had perished at the hands of the squabbling goddesses, none more cherished than the Book of Dreams written by that Gaiman fellow. Lord Dream and Lady Death had even signed it! And now, it was gone. Gone like a dream .
" like a dream ."
El laughed darkly for a very long time at his pun. He wondered what it would take to humble a pair of greater goddesses. He'd accomplished a great deal in his life, but not even he was that good. He sighed and propped his bearded chin in his upturned hand.
No, it was best to stick with the problems one could handle; namely, the aquatransexual catboy that had left this fetid mess burning on his doorstep. What could he possibly do to pay the child back for such a wondrous gift? The possibilities were endless.
There went his Seafolk porcelain. El frowned as he continued forward with his original line of thinking. The possibilities were endless, true. But was the reward worth the pain of earning the enmity of a goddess?
"IN YOUR DREAMS, BLACKHEARTED WHORE! I'M TEN TIMES THE GODDESS YOU ARE!"
Er make that two. Damned if he did. Damned if he didn't.
"WHORE?! Take that, you pimple-bottomed coddlefairy!"
This whole affair had moved beyond embarrassing and into the downright insane. What manner of boy could inspire such base jealousy in women, let alone a pair of goddesses? Elminster had neither clue nor care. All that he wanted at the moment was a stiff drink and a way to reclaim what little peace he had won for himself. Sadly, these goals were very much out of reach at the moment.
More shattering more explosions more senseless destruction more screaming. Oooh! A crash! There went his vinyl collection. "Elvis has left the building," the Archmage whispered soulfully. If he hadn't already cried himself dry, El would have wept. It wasn't fair!
El's head slumped to the kitchen table and rested heavily upon his arms. Maybe he could cast another silence spell over himself. It would last all of what? Three minutes? No. A weak and ultimately feeble divine spell wasn't what he needed right now. Besides, Mystra would roast him if he distracted her for the spell. She had made that very clear the first time around. Thermgald's Thunderous Silence lasted a full two hours. True, it left you with a hideous migraine afterwards, but Elminster was already suffering from one of those, so why not? He lifted himself upright in his chair, intent on enjoying his last moments of life in peace and quiet as his poor tower crumbled down around his ears.
Had someone not been brave enough to knock at the door and draw the mage's curiosity, the Realms may have suffered the untimely fate that had most of Faerun feared was imminent. Elminster levered himself from the stout wooden chair and meandered leisurely through the destruction, humming a slow mournful tune — inadvertently saving the world from yet another cataclysmic event. Such is the power of choice.
The door chimes rang again and again, but El's pace didn't change. By the time he had reached the door, the chimes were ringing as if a hurricane were blowing outside. With a grand flourish, Elminster flung open the door and bowed low without even bothering to look at the figure before him. He held that pose for sometime, praying that this was a Thayan assassin come to finally put him out of his misery.
"Sorry cutie. I don't do mercy."
El opened his eyes at the sound of the sultry voice and was greeted by the most astonishingly perfect set of tanned legs that he had ever encountered. Sculpted musculature hinted at strength, while capitalizing on the natural softness of the feminine calf.
"Wondrous!" was the only word that came to mind.
Nicely turned ankles — thin, but not too bony — led into a pair of small — but not petite — feet shod in a pair of black flipflop sandals. The toes were smooth, with the nails painted a warm metallic copper.
His admiration grew as his eyes slowly traveled upward to take in the severe, short gray skirt that ended at midthigh. Hmm such finely shaped thighs, too! Black pinstripes raced down a matching short coat, that surprisingly lay open to the cool night afternoon evening breezes. Elminster's eyes paused at an ample amount of tanned cleavage peeking out from the low-buttoned, perfectly white blouse, and a small pleasant grin slowly spread across his face.
The grin was wiped away by the intrusion of an elegantly powerful hand that breached his vision. It, like the rest of the figure, was perfectly formed to represent elegance and refinement. A small rectangular card made of gold, and the folded piece of white paper that was held tightly behind it, piqued the wizard's interest.
Elminster dutifully took both and read them without so much as looking at the woman's face. One could argue stress as the cause for his rudeness, or fatigue, or the nasty effects of a really bad hangover. In the end it didn't truly matter. The outcome would inevitably remain the same.
His grasp of the Rokugani was rusty, but thankfully the characters rearranged themselves into a number of different languages that he knew.
"Kinhon'i. Goddess First Class, Unlimited. Department of Divine Auditing." El scratched his beard thoughtfully and finally brought his gaze up to the woman's lovely face. Her coppery hair was cut in an attractive page-boy style that left her slender neck exposed. Her smile was warm, yet mischievous, and her emerald eyes held a fire that threatened to consume everything in their path including Elminster.
"I thought that ye were a Hellish organization," El said carefully, trying desperately not to offend. The goddess smiled, causing the golden spiral designs on her cheeks to stretch a bit.
"We're freelance, actually. On loan to you-know-who, from you-know-where," she whispered conspiratorially from behind her hand. The golden teardrop on her forehead caught the warm light of El's fireplace and glistened metallically.
He didn't know "who", nor did he know "where", but didn't stop him from nodding sagely and smiling like he did. Half of his battles were won by pretending to know more than he did. Although, come to think of it, the other half of his troubles had come in the same manner . He moved aside and motioned her inside.
"Am I to assume I am being audited?" He had heard of the rapacious tortures associated with such events, but never in his life had he expected to be a participant in one. Accountability for one's stewardships was one thing an audit was something else entirely. Infernal torture? Divine torment? Both of those seemed to fit nicely to El's mind.
The goddess laughed. A sound that was surprisingly clear and pure. "Don't be silly. We only audit fully the Fully Ascended. Demigods, god-like mortals, and epic heroes are handled at another office. When you finally decide to Ascend, then I'll pay you a personal visit." She patted his face softly, smiled at him coyly, and winked. A large crash from upstairs drew her attention to the other inhabitants of the tower. "I assume they're up there."
El nodded as he unfolded the small white slip of paper. "Mind the Rutger's Plant. They scared the bloody thing near to death, and he's been looking to reassure himself. Damn thing's useless now." El continued to mumble about watch-plants and senseless uses of fire magic in the house.
"I'll be gentle," she purred.
El stared at her appreciatively for another long moment and then began reading the note in his hands. His tired eyes bugged and continued to grow the longer he read. He must be hallucinating. That was the only explanation that readily came to mind. His eyes shot up to the goddess. "A bill! For just admiring the view?" El's head was swimming at the figures each new line brought. "By the second, no less! Ye've got to be kidding me!"
The Auditor grinned cattily and leaned against the wall, not hiding her amusement. "Mister Elminster, I don't kid. I'm not in the charity business, either." And with that she slunk up the stairs. She paused, winked at him again and blew him a kiss. "Make sure to read all of the fine print. Ignorance is not an excuse."
Elminster continued to read, skipping to the "Total Amount Due" on the bottom line. The amount of fine print that one could fit on a tiny 2" x 3" receipt was amazing. The wizard's eyes squinted, and then with a word and gesture, enlarged the sheet of paper with a spell and continued to read. The fact that there was still more fine print beneath the original fine print made his head light. "Goddess of Magic preserve and protect me Elminster, ye old fool, what sheep-dip have ye fallen into this time?"
He enlarged the paper again and moved to a lone table near the fireplace. His face blanched. Another spell enlarged the note again, making the paper roughly the size of good-sized door. Still more fine print revealed itself to the mage's eyes. This was getting ridiculous.
"How in the world can ye expect a man to accomplish all of this?" Elminster protested. "And just who in the Nine Hells is this 'Saotome Ranma' anyway?" He glared at the door-sized note and then up the empty staircase. There was an audible *pop!* and a large golden folder materialized in the air before him.
El snatched the two-inch thick bundle out of the air and opened the folder carefully. The cover letter, while cordial, was gruff and professional. He wanted to burn the whole thing after reading the introductory sentence.
"If ye choose to accept this mission bah!"
He impatiently flipped through the paperwork, scanning each page quickly until he came to the "meat and potatoes", so to speak. His eyes slowly closed upon reaching the biographical information and the images of target. A very uncharacteristic whimper escaped his lips. Alrassa hadn't rescued him from Hell. He was still there and this was some elaborate form of torture.
"Oh, and El-baby?" Elminster looked up to the sultry goddess with resignation. "Be a dear and take care of the army marching on your tower. I really hate it when distractions disrupt the flow of things."
"Ease this blood-price, and I'll send this whole bloody tower to the beach," El grumbled.
"The beach, huh?" She tapped her lips thoughtfully for a moment before pulling out one of her gold business cards. She produced a silver pen with a flourish of her wrist and scribbled something on the back. "Sorry, darling. No can do. However, I can offer you this instead." She kissed the card and tossed it to the wizard.
El read the card, re-read the card, and even produced a monstrous magnifying glass to read the really, really, really fine print. When he was satisfied that he understood everything well enough, he looked up at her with a raised eyebrow and smiled.
El conjured his cloak and hat, summoned his staff and was out the door before the compact could be negated or more terms instituted. He was an intelligent being, after all, and knew when a battle was lost. There was nothing cowardly about cutting your losses and retreating to save what little you had left. He still felt that he had gotten himself the shaft, though.
Standing on the hill above his beloved Shadowdale, he could already see the mob darkening the horizon. The morons had to have marched hard from Sembia to reach Shadowdale this quickly. He snapped his fingers twice, uttered the spell trigger, and watched in satisfaction as the tower disappeared. Another snap of his fingers conjured a ball of yellow light before Elminster.
"To Mourngrym, Lord of the Twisted Tower " El cleared his throat and tried to think of the quickest way to word the message. "Going on important trip. Won't be back for a good time. Storm is visiting Aglarond. Call on Khelban or Vangerdahast if ye need assistance. Elminster." He nodded sharply to himself and sent the small yellow light shooting towards its destination. Valor arrived then, leading two horses and three mules packed for travel. The third mule was laden with various casks and wineskins, much to El's pleasure.
"Ye are truly an amazing creature, lass." The gentle drow smiled serenely and bowed to her patron. Elminster fairly leapt into the saddle and motioned for her to do the same.
He still had the golden folder in hand when she finally mounted her horse. With a great sigh, he tucked the paperwork into the hidden confines of his cloak and spun his horse around to face Valor. "Come, Valor. We've miracles to work and a wretched fool to protect."
The drow's eyebrow rose drastically, but her face revealed no other emotion. "Who are we protecting this fool from?" she asked.
El frowned and knuckled his hawkish nose thoughtfully. "Himself. Who else?" El spurred his mount toward the Ruins of Myth Drannor, ignoring the mob of people that had finally entered Shadowdale proper. As the pair left, night again turned into a bright and shiny, perfectly tempered day, leaving the army of angry men and women at a loss for their righteous cause. The world hadn't ended after all.
This, of course, made the group feel terribly embarrassed and more than a little confused. They needed something to help them save face and justify coming all this way. A call went up for the heads of the wizards that had duped them. It was seconded, and ratified by a third. The small army turned and began marching back the way that they had come, thus ensuring the mob intelligence quotient for a little while longer.
Tower of Elminster (what was left of it)
"Shar, Shar, Shar." Kinhon'i clucked her tongue and gave the Dark Goddess a pitying look that held absolutely no pity in it whatsoever. The Mistress of the Night wept as yet another of her deductions was set aside in the "Nice-Try" pile.
Mystra laughed nervously as she gathered her records and hoped that her predecessor had kept a good accounting. Neither goddess had ever, in all their long memories, experienced the unique pain associated with an Audit of Accountability. Ao had always held them liable as a group. This new personal method was both disconcerting and humbling. Both prayed that it was not a portent of things to come.
Shar pursed her lips, ground her teeth and waited patiently for that upstart Mystra to get hers. She winced as another deduction was gently laid in the "Points-for-Creativity" pile.
"You've really got a good imagination," the golden-skinned goddess remarked with a smile. Yet another deduction fell by the wayside — this time to the dreaded "You've-got-to-be-kidding" pile. Shar stewed and grumbled.
She was the "Lady of Loss", true but this was absurd!
Somewhere in the North beneath the plains of Huigun,
Run. That was the only thing that Usagi had on her mind at the moment.
Run hard. Run fast.
Don't look back at the screaming horde of things chasing her. Don't concern yourself with all of the rough-bladed weapons that they were waving, nor the crude, yelping promises of death and defilement that, for some strange reason that escaped her, Usagi could clearly understand. And while she was at it
"There is no spoon! There is no spoon!"
She looked back and whimpered at the sight of the large shadow leading the group of tiny, yapping, two-legged Chihuahua demons.
"I DISBELIEVE, ALREADY!" she screamed.
Another hopeful glance made it clear that someone didn't believe that she didn't believe. Usagi allowed herself a moment of peace before allowing the panic to take her once again. If she could outdistance them, she would be safe.
"Safe." The word held little meaning for her after the horror of the long dark of these tunnels. The beady, glowing yellow eyes seemed to stare at her from every black corner, spurring her on to new land speed records.
Poor Mister Horse could barely keep up with her.
Ulin was screaming again, but Usagi couldn't tell whether it was from pain from the break in her leg, or from the way that the arrows kept narrowly missing her bouncing litter. Either way, Usagi was getting a little miffed that the woman kept distracting her from her terror. Couldn't she see that they were outpacing the mob of drooling, blood thirsty lizard doggy things! See?! They were already giving up! All she needed to do was run a little faster, push a little harder, and they would leave them in the dust!
"Will you stop WHINING!" Usagi yelled back at the woman. "I'M DOING THE BEST THAT I CAN, DARN IT!"
"Kill you!" Ulin panted as yet another arrow glanced off the shield Usagi had picked up for her. "Boil your bo-bo-bo-BONES!" Ulin's hoarse voice bounced along with the makeshift litter as they passed over more uneven ground.
The litter had, by some miracle, held together for the whole twenty minutes that they had been running from their pursuers. Usagi was rather proud of that, since she had never really learned how to tie knots. So, she continued to pour on the speed — neither thinking nor caring about the consequences of her actions.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. Winning streaks falter. Good luck runs out. The pendulum swings the other way. In Usagi's case, Fate threw her a junk hand when what she really needed was a Royal Straight Flush.
She took a sharp corner at breakneck speed. Mister Horse blindly followed. Ulin however, had no control over her mode of transportation. There was a sickening "CRACK!" that reverberated over the noise of the horse's clattering hooves. Usagi looked back in time to see her injured friend do a tight flip and smash bodily into the wall. Had she been paying attention to Mister Horse, she might have avoided the same fate. Sadly, as many of Usagi's teachers were known to comment, the blonde haired girl wasn't all that attentive.
The lesson of inertia versus immoveable objects was rudely pounded home as Usagi slammed into the stony dead end full-tilt and bounced off. Ulin followed her example by careening off the opposing wall. She spun in a mind-numbing circle across the twenty-foot wide tunnel, bounced off the original wall with a pain-filled scream, and came to a rough halt not three feet from Mister Horse.
Usagi blinked from her position on her back and looked up at the ceiling. White, black, green, and pink spots danced in her eyes. It took her a moment to fully comprehend that her body had ceased its forward momentum and another to realize that the sounds of her pursuers were getting louder and more energetic.
She leapt to her feet and looked for Ulin. The green-skinned woman was writhing in a tiny little ball about three feet away and whimpering. Usagi wanted to check on her friend, but the yipping was getting louder every second. The displaced moon princess scrambled for the shield that Ulin had dropped and slid it over her arm. Once she had some protection, Usagi knelt beside her friend and gave her a cursory examination in the low light of the torches that hung on the far end of the tunnel.
"Touch me and I swear so help me " Usagi wasn't sure how one could pant and growl while making the ground tremble, but Ulin was doing a fair job of it. "Even the Fires of Avernus will be a welcome relief to you!"
There was something in the way that the words rushed from Ulin's throat that gave Usagi pause. When Rei was particularly upset with her, the shrine maiden's speech tended to become more rapid. This was never a good sign, so Usagi tried her best to diffuse Ulin's anger as best she could. "Are you going to be okay?"
Ulin growled and tried to keep from biting clean through her tongue as another wave of pain washed over her. Usagi started to ask what she could do to help when an arrow blasted half way through her shield. She squeaked and tried her best not to faint at the sight of the pointy very pointy arrow that had nearly pierced her head. After a moment of fear she peeked around the edge of the wooden disk, grit her teeth, and fingered her broach.
The tunnel, twenty feet away from her current position, was filled with drooling monsters, the largest of which would have towered over Mamoru by about a foot or more. Some were licking their swords and others were shifting eagerly from foot to foot in anticipation of the bloodletting.
She wasn't certain why they were holding back. But the way that the large one was eyeing Usagi, made her want to bathe. She had endured openly lecherous gazes before, but never from something so inhuman. It sent a shiver down her spine just thinking about it.
She looked down at Ulin sadly and smiled. She didn't know how she was going to get them out of this, but she knew that she couldn't just give in. She'd faced too many battles for that to be an option. "Close your eyes," she whispered.
"What what are you going to do?" Ulin growled.
Usagi didn't answer. A deep calm had come over her, that peaceful Zen state of oneness that always came to her when faced with certain doom. She took a deep breath and stood protectively over her injured friend.
"I don't suppose you'd be willing to leave us in peace, would you?" The guttural laughter from the monsters made her purse her lips and nod. She could already feel the power building in the broach, yearning to be released. The largest of the beast-men pointed at her and barked a command, sending six of the little dogmen racing forward.
The words were already spilling from her mouth before they had taken their first steps.
"MOON ETERNAL, MAKE UP!"
A pure white light flared in the dimness of the tunnel, causing the beasts to scream in pain. Arrows blindly shot forward, but were repelled by the ambient magics that blanketed Usagi's body. When her transformation was complete, Sailor Moon stood before the group of cowering monsters boldly.
"Terrifying those who've lost their HEY!" She started to make her customary speech when the largest of the group charged her, intent on smashing her flat with a massive steel club. Sailor Moon reacted reflexively.
"Moon Spiral Heart ATTACK!"
By the time the hairy brute had covered the distance, Sailor Moon's attack had formed. The massive pink heart exploded outwards from her, taking the large beast and most of its minions with it. The attack didn't seem satisfied with the few paltry opponents that it had consumed, and so it continued on — passing through the wall opposite Sailor Moon. And the room that lay behind that wall, and the one after that, and the one after that .
The blonde haired champion of justice lost count after the twenty-fourth crash, due to Ulin groaning at her feet. The remaining monsters, all three of them, looked at Sailor Moon and screamed before running in the opposite direction that they had come.
"You've got to be joking." Ulin grit her teeth against the pain in her leg and glared at Usagi. There was death in those eyes a loooong death. Sadly, Usagi missed all the signs.
"What?" Usagi looked at her handy work and smiled triumphantly.
"What in the holy name of Herubru was that?!"
Usagi blinked at Ulin in open confusion. "It was my Moon Spiral Heart Attack."
"That was the biggest damn waste of energy I've ever seen! Haven't you ever heard of overkill?" Ulin screamed.
"But but it worked ." Usagi's hurt expression was lost on Ulin.
"No damn finesse! Just like every other spell-jockey with a fireball!"
"You don't have to be so mean."
"YES, I DO! With that much power, you could have taken out a small army! If I live through this nightmare, you're getting training! Even if I don't live! Starting tomorrow, dead or alive, you're going to learn real magic!"
"No 'BUTS'! The sooner you learn real control, will mean longer life spans for all of us innocent bystanders."
Usagi's bottom lip trembled and tears welled in the corners of her eyes.
"Moon Spiral Heart Attack ! By Mystra's Mantle! I think I'm going to be sick!" Ulin grumbled and tried to ignore the migraine that was pounding behind her eyes. She could feel the fever coming back, too, and they only had one more healing draught left. Gods! What a mess! The only problem, in Ulin's mind, was that the torment seemed endless, especially judging from the rather unique looking pink wand in Usagi's hand.
"What is that?" It was impossible to keep the revulsion and disgust from her voice.
It had to be the gaudiest thing she had ever seen! The pink shaft was adorned with knuckle-sized diamonds and capped with an ornately cut ruby set in gold. The "hilt", if one could be so bold as to call it that, was made from some red metal and had finger guards that curved out to form a giant red heart. The little pink wing handguards were the crowning ornament, though. "I am going to be sick."
"What?" Usagi looked at the Kaleid Moon Scope with a pouting little frown. "It's pretty!" Usagi said in her defense.
"It's pretty stupid!"
"You take that back!"
"Take it back!"
"Make me, you you blonde-haired, bubble-headed menace!"
They argued for another twenty minutes, with the volumes steadily rising with each volley of slanders. Usagi was doing surprisingly well, slinging new and extremely colorful taunts at the green-skinned woman. Ulin, however, clearly remained the victor. Which stood to reason; she had well over a hundred years on her opponent, not to mention having spent a good deal of time on Krynn with a pair of Kender Not by choice, mind you.
No. Never by choice.
Still she had come out of her penance with a battery of valuable skills that had served her on a number of occasions. She was a mistress of filching, and could sling mud like no one's business. Poor Usagi never stood a chance.
"Soup Jenny!" Usagi blinked and looked at Ulin puzzled.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"If I have to explain it, then I win." Ulin grimaced and massaged her temples.
Usagi was about to really lay into the Genasi when she heard something shuffle behind her. Fearing another assault she whirled on the sound and began building power for another attack. The sight that greeted her made her gasp and drop the Kaleid Moon Scope completely.
Children from the approximate ages of six to somewhere around fourteen were huddled in a large group at the mouth of the hole that Usagi's attack had made. Their pale, malnourished faces were dirty and bruised and their lightless eyes were sunken and hollow from lack of sleep. They wore rags that were little better than potato sacks over bruised and scarred skin. Even Ulin was humbled to silence by the sight.
At the front of the group was a tall, stoic boy with dark hair that reminded Usagi of Mamoru. He was gaunt, and carried a bloody handaxe that must have seen recent use. He couldn't have been older than thirteen, causing Usagi to immediately think of her brother Shingo, and then surprisingly of Hotaru. His eyes held the same resignation and determination that Usagi had seen in the Senshi of Saturn's eyes. He had the power to kill and hated it, but he shouldered the burden so that no one else had to. The rest of the children huddled timidly behind him while trying to sneak a peek through his legs and arms.
"What's your name, boy?" Ulin did her best to keep her voice even, while shifting herself to get a better look at the group. She didn't want to know what her throbbing leg looked like, but she could easily tell that it had broken in yet another place. The hasty, inadequate brace that she and Usagi had set her leg with was broken and useless now. From the wet feeling that was pooling beneath her, the Genasi could tell that either a bone had broken through the skin, or the dirty stick had punctured her leg.
"Viet Lackman," he said gruffly.
"That's Iluskan, isn't it?" Ulin could hardly see his head bob in the low torch light of the cavern for the haze the pain was casting over her eyes. "You have any kin in these tunnels?"
"No." He hesitated for a moment, and then looked back at the other children. "No, ma'am, but some of these others do."
"Are you going to try and free them?" Ulin gritted. The pain was getting to be intense.
"They sent us away." A quiet girl, maybe fourteen years old, stepped forward. Her hair could have been blonde or auburn once, but the dirt and grime had stolen its beauty. "Most of them were sick, and another cell was blocked by the collapse in the tunnel."
Usagi gasped and covered her mouth. "Ulin! We can't leave them to die!"
"Shut up, Usagi." Ulin closed her eyes and started massaging her temples.
"I'm not leaving anyone down here to die at the hands of kobolds and Bugbears, Usagi! Now shut up and let me think!" The sorceress sighed and tried to find a path through the agony. It was making it impossible to concentrate.
This was her element, damn it! Had she been whole, the earth would have danced for her. It would have crooned its secrets to her like a longtime lover. But she wasn't whole, so she would have to make due with what she had available to her. "You there, girl. What's your name?"
"Shandri Dunhill, Mistress."
Ulin nodded. "Do you know the way back to the cells?" Shandri hesitantly nodded. "Good. You're going to be Usagi's guide." Both girls blinked and tried hard to swallow their fear. "The rest of us are going back two tunnels. We passed a large room that should be more defensible than this."
"I should go." Viet stepped forward in front of Shandri protectively, causing Ulin to glare at him. Her hard eyes made him flinch.
"No, you shouldn't," she said flatly. Her black eyes seemed to absorb the light of the torches, without reflecting their light. Viet stood his ground, but looked unsure of himself. Stupid posturing boy! "If I'm lucky, I'm going to be unconscious in under an hour and you are going to be our only real means of defense. Now stop posturing for the women-folk and start gathering what weapons you can. Daggers, short swords, shields anything that will be useful to those responsible enough to hold a weapon."
Viet stepped aside and started to do as he was told, leaving the children with only Shandri and one other wide-eyed girl to act as their cover. Usagi immediately fell to one knee, dismissing her enchantments and opened her arms wide to the younger children.
Warmth and light seemed to fill the cavern at her gentle, welcoming smile. She beckoned to them and whispered quiet encouragements to one little boy who had chanced a smile at her. One by one the younger children began running to her, and she buried them in her love. Shandri looked longingly at Usagi, yearning for the comfort that she was giving so freely to the others.
"Enough, Usagi." Ulin bit back a grimace. "There will be time for that later."
Usagi finally took a good look at her friend and gasped at the state of the wound. The brace had pushed completely through the skin and Ulin was openly bleeding now. Usagi rushed to her friend's side and hovered there helplessly under the baleful glare Ulin was giving her.
"Ulin! Why didn't you tell me it was this bad?"
"What exactly could you have done about it anyway?" she growled.
Usagi flinched back and bit her lip angrily. Defiance welled up in her heart. "Something's better than nothing! You're going to bleed to death!"
"You've other things to concern yourself with. Let it go."
"No. I will not!" She knelt beside the litter and tenderly examined the leg.
"DAMN IT! Don't touch me!" Ulin grouched.
"We need to do something about this," Usagi protested stubbornly.
"Idiot! The leg has to be set before it can be healed. Removing the stick will make me bleed like a stuck pig, and I still need to cast at least one spell on the door to make it secure. All that can't possibly happen right now."
"Fine. We go to the room and at least bandage your leg. Then I'll go after the parents." Ulin started to respond when Usagi covered her mouth with one hand. "Viet." The young man paused in his scrounging long enough to look up at Usagi. "That should be enough for now. Come and help Shandri lead Mister Horse."
He looked at the horse questioningly, and shook his head. He slid one more dagger into his oversized boot, before taking the horse's lead. Shandri scouted a few paces ahead while Usagi gathered Ulin into her arms and shepherded the rest of the children to bring up the rear. Ulin was growling and glaring at her the entire way to the room.
They tethered Mister Horse to a large crate with iron rings on the sides, and Shandri searched until she found a small barrel of stale water for the exhausted horse. Usagi and Viet moved Ulin as gently as they could into a corner of the room with a clear view of the door, per the sorceress' brisk instructions. They had to lay her on her side due to the way the brace had pierced her leg, which made the sorceress swoon. It was by shear force of will and stubborn determination that she remained conscious at all.
Usagi sighed and quickly gathered two of her white shirts from Mister Horse's saddlebags and then returned to her friend's side. She handed one to Viet and motioned for the boy to tear them into even strips.
"Okay you're going to have to leave quickly. I've got to cast the spell," Ulin panted. She looked terribly pale to Usagi.
"Shut up, Ulin," Usagi said with a smile. She motioned for Shandri to join them and unbuckled and removed Ulin's shoulder sheath, laying the dagger aside.
"What are you doing, Usagi?" she growled. Tears were rolling down her jade-colored cheeks.
"Shut up, Ulin."
"Viet can do this!"
Without preamble, Usagi placed a length of the leather sheath belt into Ulin's mouth. "Bite down. I'm sure this is going to hurt." Ulin mumbled something panicked around the strap, but Usagi ignored her and motioned for Viet and Shandri to gently lift the injured leg.
"Have you ever done this before?" she asked. Viet nodded grimly. Well, he had at least seen it done once. Shandri shook her head. "Good. I'll pass the wraps off to you. Make sure that they're not too tight." She remembered that much of Ami's lessons. Cutting off the circulation completely would eventually cost Ulin her leg.
Ulin braced herself as best she could as the children lifted her leg, but it wasn't enough. She screamed through clenched teeth against the white-hot pain as the bone was fumbled and jostled. It was a clumsy thing, but she didn't have the strength to curse anyone for their stupidity. The last thing that she saw was Usagi's glowing forehead above her. A golden crescent shimmered with such power a power that blanketed her in warmth and peace. And then the heavy darkness claimed her.
The Moon Wood
Ethalliandra Brestalda danced through the Moon Grove, singing the praises of Selune. She and a few of her cousins had embraced the Moonmaiden as their patron after the Time of Troubles, and their reverence only grew at the miracles and favor that had been bestowed up their small community.
"Life waxes and wanes beneath the leaves, yet love holds true."
Ethalliandra spun and looped a diaphanous streamer of white silk around her partner. To look at him, one would call him monstrous. Being a were-bear was unnerving to the uneducated, but to those select few in the grove the only thing monstrous about Ked Moonson was his capacity to love.
"Turn to the Moon, for she is your guide."
Ked allowed the silk scarf to lead him in the path that Ethalliandra dictated. His towering form loomed over the small Moon Elf, but lacked the clumsiness that one of his stature would normally move with. They moved and swayed in time with each other to the sounds of a wordless chorus sung by their fellow Selunites. The crescent moon above their heads seemed to cut the unnatural night with its soft light, creating long shadows in the Moon Grove. The power of the ceremony was soft yet salient, clinging to each member in the grove like a warm blanket. It was hardly expected that a third personage would join the dance.
The tall, blue-haired woman topped even Ked's height by half a head or more. Her grace and perfection made the couple performing the rite look clumsy and childish in comparison. White wings sprouted from her naked back, framing her emerald skin majestically. The power of her holy presence inspired the Selunites to greater fervor in their song and dance. The honor of having a Planetar appear in their midst was intoxicating. Sheildmeet had long since passed and the Conjuring of the Second Moon had already been held, which only made this visitation all the more meaningful and sacred to those in attendance.
The dance ebbed and flowed like the tide, until at last the revelers fell silent and still. Ethalliandra and Ked were bathed in sweat and fatigue as they looked up into the glowing yellow eyes of the Planetar in awe and wonder. Every head bowed in reverence and began to immediately offer up their thanks to the Moonmaiden.
<Greetings, Children of the Moon.> The mental voice of the angelic woman was melodious and immediately soothed the minds of everyone gathered. <The blessings of Selune are upon you all. Hearken to the will of thy Goddess, and know her love.>
The celestial servant gestured in a wide graceful arc, causing the ghostly rays of the moon to bend and shift delicately throughout the grove. The light rapidly wove itself into the shape of a dark-haired man with his hair braided in a short tail. He was handsome as humans went, but Ethalliandra was most captivated by the trio of tattoos that were branded on his chest: one for Selune, one for Mystra, and one for the hated Shar.
<See ye this man, favored of Selune, and take heed.>
The Planetar waved her hand again and the man's form shifted, becoming smaller and more feminine. Ked's breath caught in his throat at the sight of the red-haired woman as she shifted back and forth between male and female forms. Wonder and intrigue whipped through the small group as the female shifted from human to elf and back again. More than one mind speculated whether the personage before them was a doppelganger.
<Shapeless, formless, a force for Change. This one will mark you and make you his own. You will call her mother and father, and he will strip away your dross and forge you into my Lady's spears and swords against the Night.>
"Pray tell, oh Bright One, where shall we find this being?" Ethalliandra bowed her head low to the ground. The celestial being smiled benignly as she faded away, leaving the ghostly image of the constantly changing personage, dancing its own dance, in the center of the grove.
<Turn to the Moon, for she is your true guide.>
Somewhere in the North beneath the plains of Huigun,
Shandri chanced a glance at Usagi as they walked through the tunnel. It had been a harrowing experience for the young woman to have her hands bathed in that much blood, but she admired Mistress Usagi's stern-faced determination.
The woman had even cast some incredibly powerful magic back in the storeroom, healing everyone of their fatigue and, most noticeably, their hunger. Mistress Usagi, now clad in something that could have easily been mistaken for a shift, had seemed surprised that her friend's wounds hadn't been healed completely. It left her somewhat reserved and quiet as they had ventured back into the oddly heart-shaped tunnel that her magic had created.
While Mistress Usagi wasn't completely satisfied with the results of her magic, Shandri felt better than she had in weeks and Viet didn't look like a gaunt zombie any more. The young girl had only been here for less than a year, but poor Viet had been under the lash for well over three. She had no idea how he had survived that long, but he had helped her and all of the other children when they had been torn from their parents' arms. She owed him, and they in turn owed Mistress Usagi.
It was strange, though. The nervous girl walking beside her jumped at shadows and seemed very at odds with the confident woman that had eased their wounds and washed away their fatigue. If anything, Mistress Usagi was acting more like Shandri felt — terrified.
Still, her bravery aside, Shandri was glad that Mistress Usagi had come. They hadn't encountered anything yet, but having the blonde woman along was better than doing this alone.
"How much further?" Usagi asked.
"Just through there." Shandri raised her torch and pointed to a heavy, shoddy looking door. It was hard not to smile as her companion visibly sighed with relief. She scanned the tunnel up and down cautiously before turning her attention back to the door. Shandri caught her meaning and kept a lookout.
Usagi gulped and shook her head. She'd read the books. She'd played the video games. She'd watched the anime. Heck, she'd even let Umino talk her into role-playing with him back in seventh grade. None of that had prepared her to live out the fantasy. She shivered as she contemplated the door.
There was no lock to contend with, and after careful scrutiny, she was fairly sure that there weren't any traps. Usagi carefully and quietly eased open the door, ready to jump back at the slightest sign of movement. She heaved yet another sigh when nothing bad happened. She gave Shandri a "thumbs up" and an infectious grin before turning back to the room. Nothing but darkness met her eyes as she tentatively stepped through the portal.
Her only warning was a shuffle and a grunt. Instinctively she threw herself forward into the room, tumbling with a scream as a huge stone club barely missed taking her head off. She rolled to her feet and continued to move, bouncing and ducking around each swing, refusing to halt long enough for the monstrous blows to connect. She could feel the weight of the wicked weapon as it cut through the air. It gave Usagi hope that its wielder would soon tire of swinging it with such force. Her hopes died after a full five minutes of bobbing and weaving, with no signs of respite.
The fact that she was still alive, in spite of the almost lightless conditions, amazed her. Rather than jinx herself though, she focused on continuing to dodge the blows as they came. Each impact the club made, shattered stone and rocked the floor around her, leaving little guesswork as to the monster's strength. She evaded another swipe at her torso by tripping over a small rock, only to hear her doom falling towards her in the form of loose boulders and rocks.
Usagi scrambled to her feet quickly, barely escaping a messy end, and led the beast back towards the door that she had entered. The dim light from Shandri's torch, was giving her a sense of what she was up against. Big, hairy, and very ugly.
The familiar form of the monster leader from before flashed in an out of the ambient light. It was bloody, and from the brief glimpses that she had caught, blind in one eye. She had to somehow use his blindness to her advantage or she was going to end up smeared across a wall.
She tensed and dove to the right into its blind spot, as it swung wildly, and kicked it in the side of the knee with enough force to break its leg. The crack would have made her throw up if her blood hadn't been pounding so loudly in her ears. The beast howled and fell to the ground meatily.
Usagi grinned and called upon the cantrip that Ulin had taught her on their second day in the caves. She scooped up a stone from where she knelt and whispered the incantation.
"Hesseth!" Light bathed the area immediately around the stone, causing the monster to hiss and shield its good eye from the sudden brightness. Usagi gasped at the walking carnage that the creature had become. It was covered in blood from a number of lacerations, both large and small, and its head was quite mangled. The entire right side of its face had been crushed, in fact. It was a gruesome sight to behold.
She had been correct that this was the leader of the band, but he looked as if he was on his last leg. Considering that she had broken the other, that made her grin. It growled at her as it staggered and fell to the floor. The beast struggled to recover its bearings.
"Knew you's come back fer the meats. Goruch knews." It grinned nastily, causing only one side of his mutilated face to pull and stretch, while the other simply hung loosely. "Gunna suck you's bones, girly-girl. Suck 'em dry!"
Usagi paid no heed to his words. Instead she stood tall and proud. "Children are meant to run free, to enjoy the innocence of life while they may," Usagi growled. Her confidence grew as the monster tried to pull itself up, using its club as a crutch. "For love and justice, I am the pretty sailor-suited soldier Sailor Moon! In the name of the moon, I will punish you!"
Had she been quicker with her speech, she might have avoided the attack. Had she not given the speech at all, the monster's stone club wouldn't have been thrown. If she had just blasted the darn thing when she had the chance, the stone club wouldn't have smashed into her face and knocked her through a weakened stonewall.
On the other hand, if she hadn't been knocked through the wall, then the people that had been suffocating on the other side would have certainly died. It was all a matter of perspective not that she was contemplating such things at the moment. No, she was too busy rolling with the impact and cursing her need to give rousing oratories before commencing with the smackdown. Stupid bad habits were going to get her killed someday.
Rocks fell over her, attempting to bury her, but her strength won out. She shifted the rubble, rolling boulders and slabs away from her groggily. The path was clear, but the prisoners were in no shape to escape to freedom yet. Not that Usagi noted any of this as she pulled herself from the rocks. Her only concern at that moment was counting the number of stars that clouded her eyes.
Her head was still ringing as she tried to work her way through the pros and cons of the friggin' speechmaking. They were certainly inspiring to her, at least. But more and more they were making her life really difficult. Change sucked. Mean monsters with no appreciation for the dramatic sucked worse.
"Everybody's a criti erk!" A great and terribly smelly hand palmed her face, and Usagi knew that she had yet again made another big mistake.
In one swift movement, Usagi felt herself lifted from her feet and slammed brutally into the unforgiving stone floor. Her uniform's magic absorbed most of the abuse, but her head was ringing like a fire bell. She braced herself for the second and third blows, and on the fourth she tucked her feet tightly against her chest, twisted her body slightly, and kicked with everything that she had.
Claws raked down her face as the monster sought to maintain its hold on her. She could feel the sting of the cuts and the trickle of blood, but in light of her frustration they were ignored. The monster squealed like a pig as it rocketed away from her. It impacted heavily on something metallic that was just out of the range of her light stone. She picked up another rock and rotated her arm to loosen its muscles.
"Stupid monsters have no appreciation for a fine lady!" Usagi mumbled. Her anger was really starting to build and along with it a small wind that was centered solely on her. Her speech sped up and became increasingly agitated. "I'm sick to death of being chased by dragons and having to wipe my butt with leaves! Do you have any idea how much it chafes? Not to mention the blisters! And then you've got to be stupid and start chasing me too. You scared me and made Ulin angry with me not that it was my fault that she broke her leg, after all I wasn't the one that opened the whole in the middle of the ground now was I? Now I'm here fighting a big smelly monster with no consideration for child labor laws in a dark smelly cave that I can barely see in. I'm dirty my hair's a mess and I'm starting to get cramps!"
"Hesseth!" Another light flared to life in the palm of Usagi's hand. She paused a moment and ground her teeth. "Stupid monsters! Stupid Ulin! Where the hell am I supposed to find a tampon in a dark smelly cave?"
Usagi tossed the light in the direction the monster had flown. The stone bounced twice, causing the shadows to dance crazily, before settling into a spinning skid that ended abruptly. The light stone had wedged itself between hard flat rock and something soft, shedding its light outward in a wide cone.
The sight that greeted Usagi's naive eyes made her knees weak and her empty stomach heave. Blood and gore soaked the walls. A metal prison, its bars bent oddly from where the beast had hit, looked more like a slaughter house from some splatter movie.
Human bodies were everywhere.
No. Not bodies. Pieces of bodies.
Infant bodies .
She had no words. Nothing could break through the grotesque imagery that confronted her. She wanted to vomit. She wanted to scream. Dear sweet heaven above, she wanted to run! But her body rebelled against all of her wishes and remained where it was. Some part of her mind noted the monster was pulling itself to its feet. She watched numbly as it tore a loose bar free from the cell and began its advance towards her.
It grinned wickedly. Triumphantly.
She narrowed her eyes at the creature hatefully. It was wrong. It hadn't won. Not in the least. It would pay for its crimes. It would pay for the children and for the poor souls that it had mutilated.
Usagi screamed and pointed her hands upward towards the creature's chest. Primal power flooded through her and burned her arms on its way to freedom. The monster, the bloody cell, and everything for over one thousand yards slanting upward, simply ceased to exist. Sunlight and fresh air filtered down the gradually slanted shaft that she had made.
Something at the back of her mind told her that they could escape this way. She didn't listen to it, though. All she could see were the lifeless faces that she had failed to save lifeless faces and the blood the rivers of blood.
Shandri huddled against the doorjam. She clutched her eyes tightly shut as Mistress Usagi screamed. The pain and the anger in that cry was backed by a bright light and a rushing of wind, and then silence. Shandri held her breath, trying to calm her rapidly beating heart. She didn't want to look into the room. She didn't want to see the beautiful golden-haired woman lying in a pool of blood at Goruch's feet.
She clutched the dagger she had taken from Viet desperately and offered up a hasty prayer to Tyr, the Keeper of Justice, Tempus, Lord of Battles, and Kelemvor, King of the Dead. If she was going to confront Grouch, even in his weakened state, she was going to need all the help she could get. In this life and the next.
It took her several minutes to gather the strength and courage to glance around the doorframe. The sight that greeted her left her feeling weak with joy and horror. The look of shock on Usagi's face and the great gaping hole rising skyward told Shandri all she needed to know about the fate of her family. The little girl from the small hamlet of Goldwell felt the tears building, but pushed them down in order to check on the wounded warrior before her. Usagi knelt, weeping in a ray of sunlight and muttering to herself.
" he killed them all chopped them into little pieces " Shandri grimaced and chocked back a sob. "That's not supposed to happen they're supposed to be alive "
Her voice was so matter-of-fact that Shandri fell onto her knees and hugged Mistress Usagi, murmuring what she hoped were comforting words in the woman's ear.
" I was supposed to save them!" Shandri could hear the hysteria creeping into Usagi's voice and started to get worried. The girl yelped when Usagi gripped her by the upper arms and pulled her around to face her. As much as Shandri was suffering, Usagi looked to be suffering a thousand times worse. "THEY WEREN'T SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD ALREADY!"
Shandri found herself being shaken bodily as Usagi continued to repeat the words over and over.
"THEY WEREN'T SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD ALREADY! THEY WEREN'T SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD! THEY WEREN'T SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD!"
"I KNOW!" Shandri screamed, causing Usagi to stop shaking her. The blonde haired woman blinked owlishly at the girl, not really seeing her. Shandri was unnerved by the vacuous look in the woman's eyes. "It's not your fault, Mistress Usagi. You couldn't have known."
"I can fix this." Shivers danced up and down Shandri's arms at the whispered words.
"No, Mistress. You can't. They've gone to Kelemvor's Rest."
"NO!" Usagi screamed and stood abruptly, dropping Shandri to the floor. "I will fix this! They're not supposed to be dead! I'm Sailor Moon! I'm Serenity, the Princess of the Moon! I have the Ginzuishou! I will bring them back!"
Shandri looked up at Usagi fearfully. Behind the Sorceress, she could see old Todd and Miri helping Master Hennley over a boulder. Heb and Falrinn were behind that trio, supporting Master Garl Blackhammer.
The tough as nails dwarf was limping and bleeding from a nasty cut on his upper arm. She could see more people gathered behind them, but couldn't bring herself to care. All that she saw before her was a bruised and bleeding Lady, weeping for the lives that she could not save. Shandri stood and moved forward and gently wrapped her arms around Usagi's shoulders. The woman stared into Shandri's eyes.
"I will bring them back to you."
The compassion in her voice was at odds with the feverish determination in the Lady's eyes. Usagi made Shandri step back and closed her eyes. She reached out in front of her, as if to grasp something, and the broach on her chest began to glow with a silvery light. The indecent uniform that had adorned her shapely body melted into an incredible gown of spun silver that shimmered beautifully.
Power, the likes of which Shandri had never felt before, cascaded off the woman, kicking up a fierce wind. The broach vanished in a flash of light and was replaced by a silver crystal the size of a man's heart. It floated serenely into the hollow of the Lady's hands and hovered there, pulsing with life. Usagi brought her hands high above her head, and the loose stones about the room trembled and danced in time with the crystal's pulsing rhythm. The light flared forcing everyone to shield their eyes. When it faded, Usagi was no longer standing where she had been. In her place a shaft of silvery light stretched heavenward.
Shandri hesitantly moved into the column and looked up.
High above her, hovering in the cradle of the clouds, a silver star flared, once more bathing the countryside in a soft loving glow.
Klauth, the Dread of the North, lay crippled and dying against the mountainside. He had been victorious and his enemies lay bloody and broken beneath his talons. The battle had been epic and raged the full length and breadth of the North. It would be a battle that would live on in the hearts and minds of men, elves, and dwarves for the rest of time. It was truly a worthy end for a dragon such as Klauth.
Sadly, Klauth didn't want to die yet. There was more to see and more to experience. He had long ago pondered the benefits of lichdom, but had never gotten around to approaching the Cult of the Dragon. The last emissaries that they had sent, some sixty years back, had gone the way of most interlopers — down his gullet. He was regretting that decision now. He wheezed helplessly and opened his remaining eye to glance around him one last time.
The majesty of the land about him stirred his heart. The fragility of the flowers and the trees was keenly juxtaposed against the strength and endurance of the mountains at his back. The world seemed all at once new to him, and the magic of that moment filled him with such sad sorrow.
Regret filled him at the destruction he had caused. The novelty of such an emotion stirring in his black heart made him chuckle. But the dragon's laughter soon faded into a fit of hissing, bloody coughs. Oh, to repent his follies!
What were the machinations of dragons and men, when compared to the wonder of life itself? Perhaps there was something to the drivel peddled by philosophers. Perhaps there was a greater meaning to life. Klauth sighed and began counting his breaths.
Better that, than reflecting on the legacy he would be leaving behind. There were stories of his might and ferocity. There were tales of his cunning and trickery. People even spoke with wonder about his compassion .
The dragon's thoughts lingered on that word for a time, letting it roll around in his mind. As he pondered the concept, he felt a power building near him. The purity astounded him, as did the frantic despair that drove it to build. The ground trembled enough to make him crack his good eye again in time to see a silvery star rising from the depths of the earth. Its light flared and for the first time in all his long life Klauth, the Dragon of the North, felt love and peace.
"Come back to us." The woman's voice was soft like the finest velvet as it echoed over the countryside. "Come home, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. Our hearts cannot abide the day without you at our sides."
Power flowed over Klauth, knitting his wounds and binding his flesh. Energy filled his soul and brought him back from death's door. Not all of his hurts vanished, in fact for the greater part he was still in danger of fading away. But it was enough to empower Klauth with hope.
He'd never thought to feel such a powerful emotion. As his aching, tattered wings caught the wind, Klauth looked back on the shining star hovering above the Plains of Huigun. His good eye pieced the corona of magic that hid the heart of this benevolent star, and left Klauth breathless. Such beauty he had never seen. Such unconditional love he had never known. Tears of joy snaked their way from his good eye, and something in the dragon's heart fluttered.
Thus the world bore witness to the birth of the Silver Princess. With her coming, the earth blossomed with the sounds of rejoicing. Her every step brought renewal, and the dead returned at her call.
To be continued.
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